Where’s the ethics in fashion?

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Where’s the ethics in fashion?

Photo by Terry Russell


Like most females, I have a predisposition for all things fashion. I used to be obsessed with fashion magazines and had subscriptions to two of them. I enjoyed window shopping and browsing the racks even when I didn’t have any money. On weekends, my friends and I would spend countless hours at the shopping centres drooling at the store windows that showcased the latest dress, or top or pair of shoes. But since my trip to China, it’s not what I see that matters most, it’s what I don’t see: ethics in fashion.

Now my love for fashion hasn’t subsided just because of my personal crusade to save our planet and bring back some humanity in business and life in general. But I have come a very long way since those times as a naive school girl. I am much more aware of how an item is finally displayed on a store mannequin; how labels are worded; what the stock is packaged in and how brands are marketing the products.

An example of THAT typical fashion conversation

One example of total naivety or utter indifference is what happened yesterday – which, mind you – is common when you get women together. I watched and listened whilst a female colleague bragged to those around her (I wasn’t eavesdropping, promise) about the purchases she had made from China. She had just been delivered a box full of clothing, made in China. She pulled out thirty dresses, a number of tops and several jackets purchased for a total of just $300. I wanted to scream at her about how these products signified injustices but instead I kept my mouth shut. Even if she was loud enough for the whole office to hear, she wasn’t directly talking to me.

Now I’m not blaming this woman for her lack of insight. She’s a victim of fast fashion and it’s not her fault that all she could think about was how much she had saved. If you think about it she would have paid about $7 per piece of clothing which is very cheap and most people these days in times of hardship and with the economic crisis still within their periphery, would pat themselves on the back for finding a way to save a buck.
However, if you think about it, she may have saved a few dollars in order to look good, but someone else is paying for her desire for cheap clothing, in hard menial and cheap labour. Usually in a country like China, or India, or Indonesia. These factory workers are paid a pittance for the hard work they put in to produce these cheap items of clothing that we fawn over in the Western World. They might work 12 hour shifts 7 days a week and pull in just enough money to get by.

I don’t mean to sound preachy…

I am not just some fashionista on her high horse trying to preach ethical fashion. I’ve seen this with my own two eyes. I visited some manufacturing places in China whilst trying to complete research on a fashion business a friend and I were thinking of starting. And I was blown away by the size of the factories, how much the average factory worker got paid and how much they worked. Keeping in mind however, in China, there is a lot of people and I also think that they are lucky to have jobs with the amount of people looking for work. Nevertheless though, there is nothing one can say to make me change my mind about the circumstances in which these workers face. Just because they will work for a pittance, doesn’t mean I should take advantage of that as a budding fashion business owner.
I love fashion and always will but I choose to spend my money in a state of awareness and bearing in mind the fashion company I am handing my dollars to. I want to make sure that my dollars are going to organisations that value their workers and as such, pay them fairly, and treat them with dignity and respect.
I hope more women join me in demanding ethics in fashion. Fast fashion was our Frankenstein creation and we should be the ones to end it too.
Now over to you: Are you sick of fast fashion? What do you think needs to be done to change the fashion conversation? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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